The Librarian Is In

By KATRINA SPENCER

Akissi: Attaque de Chats, by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Sapin, 2010”

Akissi is a fictional West African girl from Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), a former colony of France, that, like many former African colonies, has retained use of its colonizer’s European language. Akissi is old enough to dip into unexpected adventures in her neighborhood but not yet wise enough to fully understand their outcomes or how she got into her misadventures in the first place. Like many kid-based adventures, this work of graphic literature explores the discrepancies between what Akissi expects from her environment and the people in it, and the local, social mores she has yet to master. She is not yet 10 years of age and is still learning to navigate what it means to be obedient and respectful, how to manage her friendships and what it means to be a girl when there are established gender norms.

The style of the full-color illustrations reminds me of those seen in the 2002, French-language publication of  “Le chat du rabbin”: they’re gritty with hard, uneven black lines. The approach appears simple and juvenile, which ultimately reflects the youthful activity within the tome’s pages. Author Abouet is better known for her series “Aya,” which features a college-aged woman and the soap opera-worthy drama that surrounds her family. Abouet reached international success with this publication. 

One unique feature that Abouet includes in both works is a petite cultural glossary at the end of the work. She is eager to lovingly share additional information that further contextualizes her cultural products that appear in dialogue, images and food practices within the panels. For example, in this text, she explains “faire gate-gate,” or what we in the U.S. call “playing the dozens,” a verbal game that involves the exchanging of insults. She also provides a recipe for sweet “crottes de bique au coco,” coconut drops, which appear to be akin to the Brazilian brigadeiro, the French bonbon or the truffle.

Abouet’s work also reminds me so much of René Goscinny’s in “Le Petit Nicolas” as both of the lead characters, Akissi and Nicolas, approach a world with a pure innocence as so much is novel to them. I recommend both of these works to novice learners of French and/or anyone interested in the French School. Another French-language work worthy of consideration is Banana Girl: jaune à l’extérieur, blanche à l’intérieur  by Kei Lam: the title reads as “Banana Girl: Yellow On the Outside, White On the Inside.” I’m just starting it at the time of this writing but I suspect it has to do with the author’s ethnic and racial identities being tied to East Asia and her cultural upbringing occuring in France.

Literatures & Cultures Librarian Katrina Spencer is liaison to the Anderson Freeman Center, the Arabic Department, the Comparative Literature Program, the Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies (GSFS) Program, the Language Schools, the Linguistics Program and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

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The Librarian Is In